The arts festival market in South Africa has mushroomed since the original three festivals set the scene for a whole new industry.

Following in the footsteps of the Aardklop, Grahamstown and Klein Karoo national arts festivals, an estimated 600 festivals have sprung up around the country. This flurry of festivals is understandable. A successful festival can be extremely lucrative, not just for the organisations hosting it but for the entire region. Research conducted in the small Western Cape town of Robertson shows that about R20 million is spent in the region during the annual Wacky Wine festival.

Bringing in the money

The Cape Town International Jazz Festival is an even bigger money-spinner. According to our recent economic impact study, the festival contributed R522 million to the Western Cape economy in 2013 and created 2 721 jobs. Because many of the 35 000 visitors to the festival were from outside Cape Town, much of the money was spent on flights, accommodation, food, restaurants and transport, underlining the festival’s importance to the region’s economy. We’ve been studying the festival scene for over 12 years and regularly do similar economic impact studies for five other major South African festivals, namely the Klein Karoo, Aardklop, Vryfees, Innibos and Kieriekrankie.

What do festinos want?

Competition among festivals is intense and many vie for the same target market. Festivals that want to thrive and grow had best make sure they know exactly who their festinos are and what they expect in terms of festival offerings, service quality, pricing and the like.

A market profile study of festinos at Innibos, the national arts festival in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, revealed four different decision-making styles: ‘spontaneous’, ‘limited’, ‘extended’ and ‘routine’ decision making.

Knowing this is useful as the festival organisers can tailor their marketing to attract visitors to a variety of events, thus helping to ensure the long-term sustainability of Innibos. Just as important as knowing what festinos want from festivals is a close understanding of how local communities perceive them. To keep track of community perceptions, we typically go knocking on residents’ doors, asking them face to face about their attitudes to festivals and what changes they would like to see.

Strategies include giving locals free tickets to attend performances and creating opportunities to showcase their own talent.